Scams, Part Deux

DSC_0154_3

My favorite guys (not really), scammers, are out on the streets in Paris.  Although I previously wrote about scams and shell games, they abound and I have new photos.  Notice how they walk away in one of the pictures, that is because a cop had just walked into view.  Thieves, fraudsters, crooks, hucksters and n’eerdowell’s abound and there’s no way I could cover it all in my previous posts.  Here are some more scams you should be aware of.

Crowded trains/trams/busses provide abundant opportunities for pickpockets (beware on Geneva‘s public transport).  Pay attention.  Keep your hands on your bag.  Don’t put your wallet in your back pocket.  Pay attention to other passengers bumping and knocking into you.

DSC_0157_2

In a crowded train heist (common in Italy), dozens of future passengers squeeze their way into the train car, bus or tram a few minutes before departure. They exit just before the doors close and it departs, taking valuables with them.

See newspapers not only as a source of news, but as a handy screen.   I had a friend lose an iPhone to a nice old gentleman with a newspaper at a coffee bar.  Thieves don’t have to be old.  Beware of children (or anyone) waving a newspaper in your face.  It doesn’t have to be a newspaper.  If someone’s invading your personal space, you’re distracted.  It’s then really easy for a partner to come swipe your valuables.  Pay attention!

DSC_0158_3

Guys are suckers for pretty women.  Friends of mine are no exception.  They would strongly advise you to beware of pretty girls, especially those who invite you to meet them at a bar for a drink or suggest a restaurant.  Sometimes, they disappear and you get left with an insane bill.  The owners of the establishment are not usually open to discussion or negotiation.  You were warned.

I’ve always been afraid that someone will walk away with my camera.  It’s part of the reason you don’t see many pictures of the two of us together.  It turns out that I’ve got something else to worry about.  Sometimes those offering to pose with you in the cool period costume will have a partner willing to snap the picture.  They then hold your camera for ransom until you’ve paid for the most expensive picture of your life.   I’ll settle for cropping his fingers out of the picture like in the photo above.

DSC_0159_3

If something seems to good to be true, it is.  Don’t be a sucker.  If a taxi, rickshaw or any other mode of transport driver takes you to a store where the leather, jewelry, watches are priced low, there is a reason.

While we’re on the subject of cabbies, beware of inflated fares.  Check with your hotel to make sure your destination is open to avoid the it’s closed, but I know a better one just down the road problem.  You could also make them take you there to prove it.  Look for a license (if possible), otherwise, it’s just like hitchhiking with a price tag.

While not really a scam, I hate being taken or paying more than I have to.  In markets, stall/shop owners will frequently ask where you’re from.  They don’t do this because they want to make friends with you or just to get you to linger over their goods.  They are working out how much to charge you.  Obviously, if you come from a wealthy countries like the US, they think you have more money to spend.   Be careful with your answer, give and obscure/evasive answer.

 

Advertisements

Kiss And Tell – How To Do La Bise

While the above greeting was fun, when you meet someone you know in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, you kiss them…three times!  It’s called “la bise.”*

Kissing Black-tailed Prairie Dogs (Cynomys lud...

Here’s how you do it:

1. Touch your right cheek to the other person’s right cheek.

2. Pucker your lips and make a kissing noise at the same time.

3. Switch to the left cheek and repeat.

4. Switch to the right cheek and repeat.

5. Say “Bonjour,” it’s nice to see you, ask how they are doing, etc..

Perhaps it will catch on in the States. I highly recommend everyone go into work today and practice this one.   Start with your boss.  Or not.

How do you know who to kiss? It depends on how close the people are and their gender.  I kissed our realtor.  He did too. She was nice.  If he had made her uncomfortable, she could have chosen not to and would probably have held out her hand to shake instead.  Two guys are less likely to do “La Bise.”  When we met a nice Swiss couple, he shook hands with the husband shook hands with the husband.  He likes the KISS below better.

KISS Concert in Montreal - Kiss Alive 35 Tour

KISS Concert in Montreal – Kiss Alive 35 Tour (Photo credit: Anirudh Koul)

*Different countries kiss different numbers of times. In Belgium, they kiss only once.  In Nantes (France), they kiss four times!

The Shock Of Your Life – Culture Shock

Moving to a new country with different customs, values and language, will cause you to experience culture shock.  We went through it.  Our friends went through it.  It’s normal, so try not to freak out too much (even though meltdowns are inevitable) and don’t worry, it will get better.   The crazy part is that once you’ve successfully adapted, the odds are that you will return to your native culture and experience the same thing (known as reverse culture shock).

Dictionary.com defines it as “a state of bewilderment and distress experienced by an individual who is suddenly exposed to a new, strange or foreign social and cultural environment.”  Everyone’s different and everyone’s experiences are different, but there is a common pattern.  People experiencing culture shock generally go through these stages.   It starts with the ‘Honeymoon Phase.’  This is the “oh, how charming” stage. You will find everything is an exciting and interesting.   It seems like you are on vacation.  Who ever vacations someplace long enough to get sick of it (‘Paris Syndrome,’ ‘Jerusalem Syndrome‘ and ‘Stendhal Syndrome‘ excluded)?

How much you put yourself out into the other culture, how insulated you are from it and the pressures you experience will help determine its length, but generally it this phases lasts a few days to a few weeks.  Obviously, the more you mix it up with the local culture, the quicker it will end.  Don’t worry though, the loss of this euphoria should ultimately lead you to better understanding of the culture and adaptation.

There’s no way to sugarcoat this, what happens next distressing, you will probably drop an expletive (in your native language since you probably don’t understand too much of the local one) and realize you have changed almost everything in your daily life.  While this may arrive in a time of peace (and induce panic), it is much more likely that you have just locked yourself out or had some other bad experience.  This is called the ‘Negotiation Phase.’

Just like that, the honeymoon/vacation is over and you have to start living your daily life someplace where you don’t know how to do it.  Between us, we felt disoriented, confused and lonely.  After trying to get the apartment set up and start work, we were exhausted.  Having been though it I fought the urge to speak in English and succeeded some of the time.  Other people, watch their American shows on sling boxes, hunger for food from the US (even if it is McDonald’s and they don’t even like fast food) or spend their time with other expats.  Essentially, you become nostalgic for your native culture (while forgetting its problems).

Instead of getting better, things only get worse (or at least they do until they get better).  Living somewhere where you don’t understand how things works is disorienting.  You get sick of feeling incompetent (see Les Incompetents posts).   You wonder how you went from someone who was competent to, well, this.  Plus, with your support systems far away and your new ones not well established, it can be even harder.  It’s easy to focus on the negative.  Even if you don’t, you’re likely experiencing many more negative emotions than usual.  Anger?  Check. Sadness?  Check.  Frustration? Impatience?  Dissatisfaction? Depression?  Aggression? Rage?  Check.  Check.  Check.  Check.  Check.  And, um, yep, check.

If this is you, remind yourself  that this is inevitable when adapting to a new and different culture.   It’s at this time that most people want to leave.  Others get really depressed or negative.  Try like hell to keep a positive and open attitude.  It will be hard to connect with people if you seem like a loose cannon.  I know that life is a minefield of potential problems and you will completely screw up the simplest things (that you used to do without thinking in your native country).

Trust me when I tell you people may try to help, but 99% of them don’t understand what you are going through.  Trust me also when I tell you that lots of others of them flat-out don’t care.  I know it sounds bleak and you are probably asking why would anyone ever do this.  Remind yourself that you are in the middle of the ‘Adjustment Phase.’  Trust me one more time when I tell you that it will get better and it is worth it.  I repeat.  It will get better and it is more than worth it.

If you work hard to learn the culture, accept the customs, adjust and integrate, at some point things will get better (usually from six to nine months).  You will acquire a critical mass of knowledge, reach an inflection point and things will get easier.  You will start to feel like less of an idiot all the time.  Heck, you might even feel competent.  Even if you still don’t understand everything, daily tasks won’t induce the same level of anxiety.  It makes your life a lot easier and enables you to have a more balanced view of your new culture.  You will get happier and people tend to respond positively to this.  You’ll still probably make a fool of yourself (see Les Incompetents posts), but it won’t be as often.

Finally, you will enter the ‘Mastery Phase.’  It’s enriching and rewarding.  It builds your confidence and increases your understanding of the world.  You better understand and appreciate your native culture (or aspects of it anyway).  You will grow in ways you never imagined.  You have made amazing friends.  Some continue even further break through to an even deeper and richer understanding of your new culture.

Culture shock isn’t the easiest thing in the world to deal with, but since when do you get something for nothing?   It’s the price you pay for the wonderful experiences, knowledge, growth and friends.

This post is for one special person who rocks.   Hang in there.

Stopping At Lavaux

I like to stop along the way.  If I can get off a train and nose around a town for a couple of hours or pull off the highway to see something cool, I’ll do it in a heartbeat.  When we had Mr. Rome and Ms. Barcelona visiting, they hiked from Chateau de Chillion (near Montreaux) to Vinorama in Rivaz.  I picked them up there.  Although the lakeside is beautiful, I love the views from  Lavaux‘s terraced vineyards.  It was a gorgeous day and I couldn’t let them miss the view of Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) and the Alps.

The Mesmerizing Matterhorn

Last weekend, we went to Zermatt and saw the Matterhorn!  It was insanely beautiful, even mesmerizing.  I am a child of the eighties and so I use the word “awesome”.  More accurately, I misuse it.  When you see something as awe-inspiring as the Matterhorn, you vow to use the word properly in the future so that words to describe such beautiful, moving things will have power and meaning.

We took the train up to Gornergrat (elevation 3130 meters/10,269 feet).  It has a nice view of the Matterhorn and of the glacier.
 
 
From Gornergrat, we hiked down to Zermat (elevation 1620 meters/5,250 feet).*  It was wonderful to see the Matterhorn over time and from so many different angles.  We also liked seeing the change in vegetation on the way down.  The weather cooperated.  I don’t think there was a cloud in the sky.  This late in the season meant that any snow that was going to melt had already melted.  As a result, we could really see the geology of Switzerland’s mountains.
 
When I say I was mesmerized by it, I mean it.  I took at least 300 photos of it.  He made fun of me (deservedly so), but I couldn’t help myself. 
 
Zermatt is in the valley below.  I swear it looks closer than it felt going down.  You can see the change in vegetation as we descended.  The tree line slowed down my rabid picture taking.

*The next day our quads were sore.  I may lose a toenail (or two).  Oh well, it was so worth it.